Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 3, pp 449–455 | Cite as

Rising costs of care make spiny chromis discerning parents

  • Lyndon Alexander JordanEmail author
  • James Edward Herbert-Read
  • Ashley J. W. Ward
Original Paper


When the costs of parental care do not scale with the number of offspring being cared for, inclusion of non-descendant young into broods can be advantageous, leading to systems of alloparental care. However, if the cost of care scales with the number of offspring, selection may act against misdirected parental care. The spiny chromis, Acanthochromis polyacanthus, is a marine fish with extended biparental care, and broods that increase in size over the care period strongly suggest that alloparental care occurs in this species. However, A. polyacanthus parents directly provision their offspring by producing ectodermal mucus for their fry to feed on. The costs of such provisioning may scale with brood size, potentially increasing the costs of parental care. Using wild A. polyacanthus pairs, we tested whether foreign offspring are accepted into established broods, and measured how brood defence effort and mucal feeding scale with brood size. We found that A. polyacanthus discriminate between their own and foreign young, vigorously expelling experimentally introduced foreign offspring. Although defensive effort did not scale with brood size, mucal feeding was strongly dependent on brood size, and this increasing cost of care likely acts as the primary selective force on parental discrimination and rejection of foreign fry in A. polyacanthus.


Alloparental Parental care Costs Marine Fish Acanthochromis polyacanthus 



We wish to thank Jen and Russ at One Tree Island Research Station for their assistance in the field. We also wish to thank Brian Wisenden, Carl Smith, Carla Avolio and two anonymous reviewers for comments that greatly improved the manuscript. Funding was supplied by the University of Sydney.

Ethical standards

Australian ethics approval for this study was granted by the University of Sydney’s Animal Ethics Committee (L04/9-2008/1/4877). After all observations were completed, the remaining fry were returned to their original parents, being accepted in all cases. Fry were in holding vessels for no longer than 300 min, and no deaths were recorded while in captivity.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lyndon Alexander Jordan
    • 1
    Email author
  • James Edward Herbert-Read
    • 2
  • Ashley J. W. Ward
    • 2
  1. 1.Evolution & Ecology Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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